The Land is Exceedingly Good!
One of the gravest sins committed by the Children of Israel appears in our parsha, a sin that occurred in the desert and which is known as “the sin of the spies.” Although they were in the desert at the time, the Children of Israel desired to enter Eretz Israel, the land where the Canaanites (who were known for their depravity) were then dwelling. Nevertheless, the Children of Israel were afraid of not being able to chase the inhabitants out of the land in order to take possession of it. What were they to do?
They asked Moses to send spies into Eretz Israel to see what the situation was like in the land, in order to prepare for its conquest. However Hashem was not satisfied with this measure, and He told Moses: “Send men for yourself and let them spy out the land of Canaan” (Numbers 13:2). Rashi paraphrases this as: “According to your opinion. I do not command you. If you wish, send.” In other words Hashem was saying: “I know that the land is good and that you can enter it and live there without problem. However if you, the Children of Israel, want to send spies to examine the land, then send them for yourselves, not for Me.”
Twelve spies were sent from Kadesh Barnea to explore and spy out the land. Moses told them, “See the land – how is it? And the people that dwells in it – is it strong or week? Is it few or numerous? And how is the land in which it dwells – is it good or bad?” (Numbers 13:18-19). That is, he asked them to verify whether Eretz Israel was a good or bad land. However the spies made a serious mistake in their mission, one that cost the Children of Israel a fixed date on which to weep in generations to come for the destruction of the Temple.
The spies arrived in Eretz Israel and there they saw that the land was good. They saw that its fruits were large, and that it was a land flowing with milk and honey. They also saw that it was easy to conquer from all sides, and they could certainly invade and take control of it. However to our great regret, upon witnessing all these things, the spies did not see what was good in the land. They saw neither its beauty nor its appeal. What did they see? They saw that the land devoured its inhabitants. They clearly saw that its fruits were so large that they were impossible to transport. Everywhere they looked, they perceived that its inhabitants would be very difficult to defeat, just as they told Moses: “Nevertheless the people that dwells in the land is powerful, the cities are very greatly fortified” (Numbers 13:28). For us, what emerges from all this is that the spies were not content on remaining silent, and instead they actually spoke ill of the land. They spoke Lashon Harah about Eretz Israel, about the Holy Land. Was it a minor thing in their eyes to find a Jew and tell him that the home he is about to purchase is infested with cockroaches and sludge, oozing out mud and mire, and that it is about to topple over? What could a person think after being told such a thing? How could a person value his new home in that case?
True, our Sages have said (as Rashi and others note in commenting on Numbers 13:3) that the spies were all tribal chiefs and righteous men when Moses sent them off. Yet suddenly, having barely entered Eretz Israel, their hearts completely changed and they became capable of slandering the land, of seeing only the negative side of Eretz Israel. How could that have happened?
A story is told of two Jews, chassidim of the holy Rabbi Israel of Rozhin, who traveled to Eretz Israel separately. When they returned to Rozhin, each of them went to see the Rebbe. The Rebbe asked the first Jew, “What did you see in Eretz Israel,” to which he replied: “What can I tell the Rebbe? I saw many farmers, many peasants, coach drivers, merchants, and all kinds of people.” The Rebbe gave him his blessing, and he left. The Rebbe then asked the second Jew what he had seen in Eretz Israel. He replied, “What can I tell the Rebbe? I saw synagogues, Batei Midrash, talmidei chachamim, Torah giants, yeshivot, and kollelim. I also saw people who, even though they were engaged in business, were in the Beit Midrash at the end of the day to study a page of Gemara, regardless of everything else.”
After his departure, the Rebbe of Rozhin said: “You know what the difference between these two men is? They both saw the same people in Eretz Israel, but the difference depends on how we look at things. If we look at things with a generous eye, we see good things. And if we look at things with a bad eye, we see bad things.”
Dear friends, that is precisely what the spies did. They immediately looked at the land from a negative point of view. They arrived in Eretz Israel expressly for that purpose, to perceive only its problems. This is why they saw it in a negative light.
If we want, we can unfortunately notice this attitude today. Many people leave Eretz Israel – they “descend” abroad – because they did not find their place in the country. This happens because the land in which milk and honey flows, which Hashem promised to the Jewish people, did not affect their hearts. Such people do not realize that Eretz Israel is holier than all other countries. The reason for their departure is simply that the Holy Land does not concern them. Furthermore, they speak of the land in a derogatory way to others, which is why people do not want to live in Israel. They have heard over and over again how the country is far from good, how difficult it is to live there, and how people have it good elsewhere.
It is as we have said: Things depend on how we look at the land. If we look at it with a negative perspective, we will only see its drawbacks. However if we speak positively of the Holy Land, we will perceive its virtues. We must only look at the positive aspects of Eretz Israel, as it is written: “May you gaze upon the goodness of Jerusalem” (Psalms 128:5). Let us settle down in Eretz Israel to demonstrate our love for the land, for it is said: “Whoever lives in Eretz Israel may be considered to have a G-d” (Ketubot 110b) and furthermore, “The land is exceedingly good” (Numbers 14:7).